Heat Pump vs. Air Conditioner: Which One is Right for Cooling Your Home

March 28, 2016

Although heat is included in the name, you can use a heat pump for cooling. It works by transferring heat instead of making it (furnaces burn fuel to generate heat) which is why it is used as a dual function system. It's true that heat pumps can be very efficient, but also know that most air conditioners are roughly equivalent in terms of energy efficiency. Just look at these two luxury level cooling systems from Lennox.

XC25 air conditioner from Lennox

XC25 Air Conditioner
up to 26 SEER
ENERGY STAR® Qualified

XP25 Heat pump from Lennox

XP25 Heat Pump
up to 23.5 SEER
up to 10.2 HSPF
ENERGY STAR® Qualified



What is SEER and HSPF?


SEER is an efficiency guideline for air conditioning systems, and the larger the number, the cheaper it is to operate. The difference between 23.5 and 26 is not great though, and the efficiency changes depending on the model. On the other hand, HSPF is another scale that stands for "heating seasonal performance factor" and is unique to heat pumps. It tells you how efficient the system is at heating. You can tell from these examples that as far as energy effiency goes, air conditioners are about equal, if not superior depending on the AC you choose. The greatest difference between heat pumps and ACs is that heat pumps can also add warmth to your home while an AC only cools.

Updated minimum SEER guidelines for 2018 for air conditioning units and heat pumps
Updated minimum SEER guidelines for 2018 for air conditioning units and heat pumps


Does climate matter for heat pumps?


Heat pumps are much more effective in hotter climates with less severe winters, save for some integrated systems that use heat pumps as backups or auxiliary, such as with a geothermal system. We recommend a consultation with a NATE certified HVAC pro who has experience in your area before getting your heart set on a heat pump. If the equipment just isn't right for your area, you could have unnecessarily high electric bills. Once the temperature sinks too low, it's difficult for the heat pump to draw heat out of the air and it may never hit the temperature setting on your thermostat. This means you may end up running your heat pump non-stop or switching on emergency heat 24/7 during winter which drives your energy consumption through the roof.

How does a heat pump compare to a furnace?


A furnace is a stronger heating system and is critical for certain colder climates. That’s because a heat pump has difficulty when the weather hits about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. As unusual as it may sound, during cooler temperatures, a heat pump is intended to pull heat from the outside air and use it to heat the inside air. Although it may be too cool outside for comfort, there is still plenty of available heat for the heat pump to function well, but at extremely low temperatures there is not sufficient heat available outside to increase the inside temperature high enough to stay warm. So while a heat pump may work perfectly during the winter months for someone in Orlando, someone living in upstate New York with a heat pump would likely also need a furnace for the more extreme temperatures. If you’re living in those colder climates without a furnace to kick in during freezing temperatures, a heat pump may run for hours trying to make your home warm enough for comfort.

How to achieve maximum efficiency with your heat pump


In some areas, heat pumps can work with geothermal systems, and the heating source is better for the environment since it is not burning fossil fuels and, instead, uses the Earth’s natural temperature to heat and cool. This is a wonderful alternative for certain northern climates, but additional land must be available in order to install the proper piping for a geothermal system.

When it comes to home comfort, you probably didn’t need anything else to think about; but, remember, it’s important to review the pros and cons of each heating and cooling system so you don’t end up purchasing a system that turns off when extreme temperatures hit, or investing in multiple systems when one would suffice.

If you’re not sure which system would work best for you, call Comfortech Service Experts to schedule a complimentary in-home quote. We are available to answer any and all of your questions to make sure you make the right decision for your home.
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